MILLWALL kicked off their 2016-17 League One campaign with a comfortable win over Oldham at The Den on Saturday afternoon.
Lee Gregory opened the scoring in the 13th minute before Aiden O’Brien’s strike at the end of the first half extended the lead.
Centre-back Byron Webster made it three just after half-time as Millwall completely dominated their opponents.
This was the perfect start to the season for the Lions, who showed no signs that the disappointment after last May’s League One play-off final defeat to Barnsley still lingers.
Millwall looked vibrant and hungry, the only blot on the afternoon an injury to Gregory, who went off at the break.
Oldham, though, played like a side justifying their short relegation odds and that should be warning enough for Millwall that this result and performance doesn’t necessarily mean a promotion push is guaranteed.
There were 10 players making their competitive debuts for Oldham, while this was also Steve Robinson’s first league game in charge of a club as a senior manager.
Neil Harris gave David Worrall his league debut, with another attacking recruit, Gregg Wylde, starting on the bench before coming on in the second half. Shaun Hutchinson failed to recover from the tight hamstring that forced him off against Brentford last week.
But it was one of Millwall’s emerging stars from last season who forced the breakthrough in the 13th minute. The Lions had already made a strong start with Gregory lifting an early effort over before Ben Thompson picked the ball up on the edge of the box and skipped past Cameron Burgess, who brought him down. Referee Roger East immediately pointed to the spot and Gregory stepped up to send Connor Ripley the wrong way.
Millwall were playing like a side who knew their roles in Harris’ second full season as boss. Oldham, perhaps understandably, struggled to impose their game plan.
The home side’s four attacking players’ directness and movement also troubled the Latics’ defence, and 34-year-old Peter Clarke could be seen bent over catching his breath before Morison set off on another run down the left channel.
Some neat combination, and evidence of the early understanding Worrall has developed with his team-mates, resulted in the winger sending Gregory away with a ball over the top, and from his pass Thompson’s shot was deflected wide. Morison headed the corner towards goal, but Ripley saved at the near post.
Millwall’s confidence was signalled when Morison tried to lob Ripley from 40 yards, but the ball just cleared the crossbar.
And that feeling was reinforced five minutes before the break when the Millwall striker nutmegged Ousmane Fane and picked out O’Brien whose cross was cleared.
It always felt in the first half that set-pieces would be Oldham’s most likely route back into the game, and after Webster had given away a free-kick 24 yards out substitute Josh Law – who had come on for the injured Jamie Reckford in the 11th minute – fired inches wide.
And Millwall deepened Oldham’s misery in first-half injury-time when Worrall’s corner broke to O’Brien in the box and he rifled a half-volley past Ripley.
The one worry for Millwall was an injury to Gregory, who had gone down off the ball in the first half and didn’t reappear in the second, Joe Martin coming on with Shane Ferguson moving to the left wing and O’Brien up front.
It took Millwall just a minute of the second half to extend their lead, Webster reacting quickest at the back post to fire home after Oldham had failed to deal with Worrall’s corner.
Later in the half Webster was lucky Ollie Banks’ dangerous tackle didn’t do more damage, with the Oldham midfielder fortunate referee East didn’t pull red rather than yellow from his pocket.
Millwall eased off as the second period went on, but Oldham couldn’t take advantage of a number of corners and free-kicks, substitute Marc Klok trying his luck from a tight angle but Jordan Archer gathered cleanly at his near post.
In the 78th minute Darius Osei found a chink of space in the box, but he rolled his effort wide when he really should have tested Archer.
Klok again went close with a free-kick from 25 yards out in the 81st minute, but the ball just cleared Archer’s right-hand post.
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